The SNES Classic Mk. II: Episode XVIII: Jelly Boyz 2 Mega Men

The SNES Classic had a sterling assortment of games from Nintendo's 16-bit star console, but it's hardly all that system has to offer a modern audience. In each installment of this fortnightly feature, I judge two games for their suitability for a Classic successor based on four criteria, with the ultimate goal of assembling another collection of 25 SNES games that not only shine as brightly as those in the first SNES Classic, but have equally stood the test of time. The rules, list of games considered so far, and links to previous episodes can all be found at The SNES Classic Mk II Intro and Contents.

Episode XVIII: Jelly Boyz 2 Mega Men

The Candidate: Capcom's Mega Man 7

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I brought up Mega Man 7 when covering Kirby's Dream Land 3 last episode, because both games occupy this unusual role of the developer moving backwards for the sake of a relatively inchoate nostalgia. Just in general, Mega Man's outings on the SNES in general were a bit more unorthodox than the six highly conventional platformers that the NES saw. In 1993, several years into the SNES's reign, Mega Man saw its sixth NES game and fourth Game Boy spin-off, both essentially following the same course as their antecedents, and Capcom knew that they had to do something different for the Blue Bomber's 16-bit debut. That's why in the December of that same year, Capcom released Mega Man X: the all-new adventures of an advanced Mega Man model set even further into the future beyond Dr. Light's robotic utopia of 20XX (and a game that appeared on the actual SNES Classic console, making it ineligible for this feature.)

Even so, Capcom weren't done with their original Mega Man canon. 1994 saw The Wily Wars, a Mega Drive compilation of the first three NES games with a special final challenge, and the SNES was graced with the bizarre Mega Man Soccer featuring many of the original robot masters. The following year ushered in the seventh game in the "Classic" Mega Man series. In a sense, Mega Man 7 had an impossible job trying to compete with its fancy new brother MMX (and MMX2, which was released the previous holiday season) and the fond memories people had of the original NES games - especially 2 and 3. That's not to mention the state-of-the-art offerings available on the new Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, which at this point were making every new SNES game feel slightly inadequate.

I'm a little ambivalent about Mega Man 7. Each of its clouds has a silver lining, and likewise each of its roses has its thorn. Take the big sprites for instance: the characters of Mega Man, Roll, Dr. Light, Dr. Wily, Rush, Bass, Treble and all the robot masters and regular enemies all have these larger sprites that allow for more animation nuance, including reactions and expressive faces, but the downside is that the increased sprite-to-screen-size ratio makes every level feel cramped, and every boss that much harder to defeat with less room to maneuver around in to avoid attacks. The game employs a new feature introduced in Mega Man X where you can backtrack to earlier levels with abilities you've since acquired and use them to find and collect new permanent upgrades. You can also earn a type of currency dropped by enemies (along with the usual life and weapon refill pods) to purchase energy tanks and extra lives from the goofy mechanical shopkeep Auto. But the downside to this feature is that the upgrades - especially the Super Adapt armor that allows Mega to combine with Rush for a small double jump - can make certain sections way easier. If you're not abusing energy tanks by farming cash and restocking to the maximum of four for every stage, the game has this moderate difficulty curve that suddenly ramps off into infinity for the punishing final Wily fight - the most challenging in the entire franchise. The game has conveniences, like an item that lets you leave a level if you've defeated its robot master and came back for collectibles, but it neglects to address the occasional "one and done" issue of bosses that have a specific weakness and would be too difficult to defeat without exploiting it - after one run, you've probably used most of that weapon up, rendering subsequent runs unlikely to succeed (there are consumable full weapon refills that work like energy tanks, but they're also more expensive).

Oh man, this jerk. You better believe I'm saving
Oh man, this jerk. You better believe I'm saving "The Best Of" my arsenal for him.

Mega Man 7 is often a case of "almost, but not quite"; understandable shortcomings borne from attempting to adapt a series from one console to the next, integrating the advances of its sister series X but only to an extent that makes sense for the evolution of the classic series - the last thing the intended audience wanted for this throwback (even if Mega Man 6 had only come out a mere two years earlier) was for it to become another Mega Man X, regardless of whether or not they were fans of the latter. On the other hand, that final Wily boss was inexcusable, and it shows up after the requisite boss rush of all the previous robot masters so there was no way I was willing to work my way through all of them for a third or fourth time.

Uhoh, it appears my animosity has drawn the attention of the almighty P.O.G.S., which feeds on the potent negative energy that only be generated by critically reviewing decades-old games on the internet:

  • Preservation: This one's a tough call. Theoretically, if the Mega Man games hadn't aged well, they wouldn't all have new rereleases via the Mega Man Legacy Collections. Even so, Mega Man 7 had to wait until Legacy Collection 2, which might as well have had "...And The Rest!" as its subtitle: dumped there alongside the infamous Mega "Dr. Wahwee" Man 8 and the ludicrously-tough-for-no-real-reason modern reboots Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10. I don't think MM7 is a game that's remembered particularly fondly by series fans: straddling the line between the NES classics and the newer Mega Man X series, not really belonging to either. Then there's the myriad issues outlined above. Any given Mega Man game meets a high standard for accessibility and competence, but a few of 7's unique foibles haven't aged too well. 4.
  • Originality: Well, here's the thing. Mega Man 7 does exhibit some innovation compared to 2-6, but most of it was cribbed from Mega Man X and X2, including backtracking for secrets. The Super Adapt armor and the in-game store were neat ideas, but they also played havoc with the game balance, making previously tough sequences trivial (though a similar statement could be made for the recurring Rush Coil and Rush Jet power-ups, as limited as they are). The new robot masters - Burst, Cloud, Junk, Freeze, Slash, Spring, Shade and Turbo - have cool designs, but mostly feel like leftover ideas or clones (Junk Man's fight is close to Dust or Guts, Cloud Man works like Air or Spark, etc.). Bass is just an edgier Protoman without the whistle or Speed Racer reference (Proto's here too, but he's well hidden). The only really novel robot master was the vampire-like Shade Man, whose spooky level had nods to Capcom's Ghouls N' Ghosts and the Transylvania level of DuckTales. 3.
  • Gameplay: I really don't know where to go with this score. That final boss left a foul taste in my mouth. I did enjoy the game for the most part, and the new boons helped mitigate a lot of the frustration that generally follows with the mildly misanthropic Mega Man series, and I'm a sucker for spacewhipper-style backtracking and hidden upgrades. Even so, that cramped feeling you get from the giant sprites really makes a difference in the boss fights, and the game too frequently pulls the worst ideas from its past games - the disappearing/reappearing blocks, the platforms moving along a tread that toss you off where the rail changes, that one part of Quick Man's stage where beams come in from the sides as you descend the stage as quickly as possible - that made the game feel too much like a "greatest hits" (or the opposite, I suppose). Uninspired AND cruel is not a great combo. 3.
  • Style: I'll give it to those sprites though, they look pretty amazing. The shockingly buff Dr. Wily and his goons make some amusing faces when hit, and the character designs and animations are top-notch. The music's good too - there's a brief interlude where you chase Wily into a "robot museum" filled with previous robot masters, and there's a brief medley of some of the older music - and having Dr. Wily be the villain from the offset, instead of some proxy that we're supposed to believe has nothing to do with Wily, is oddly refreshing. 4.

Total: 14.

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The Nominee: Probe Entertainment's Jelly Boy

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Jelly Boy's yet another one of those locally-grown, mostly-forgotten SNES games I tend to champion more often than it perhaps deserves, but it has a certain guiding philosophy to it that strikes me as very "Indie". Part of that is the way it cribs from multiple contemporary platformers at once: it uses an equivalent of Sonic the Hedgehog's ring system, where taking damage forces the protagonist to drop all their collectibles but remain alive; it has a branching overworld map reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3 where some levels are more optional than others; and it borrows from David Crane's A Boy and His Blob for the hero's shapeshifting (and progress-enabling) powers. However, it has an extra leg up over the standard imitator also-rans on the platform by just how comprehensively it draws from multiple influences, not unlike Yacht Club Games's Shovel Knight. A game that rises above the sum of its carefully curated parts. Less a Frankenstein's monster, more a Serpentor.

There's also just a lot about the game and its sensibilities that I find appealing. I'll run down the list real quick: there's a certain affable silliness to its sense of humor, like the way a duck button transforms Jelly Boy into an actual duck (which can quack, if you hit the attack button); the way the true ending is kept from reach unless you find a special hidden jigsaw piece on each stage, challenging the player's resourcefulness via a means similar to the hidden exits of Super Mario World; the game's bright and colorful aesthetic, with six distinct settings for its worlds; the frequent diversions linked to the morphing power-up system, like skiing down hills or floating through the air as a balloon; and the inclusion of Harry the Dog, a recurring useless puppy character that nonetheless always tries his best.

Quack.
Quack.

Truthfully, there's not much I could point towards that would justify why Jelly Boy deserves to be enshrined with the system's greatest and most memorable games. Platformers weren't exactly in short supply for the system, and many required an angle or an edge beyond a solid bedrock of competency to stand out. Super Metroid's exploration, for instance, or Mega Man's upgrades or Donkey Kong Country's then-impressive visuals and still-impressive music. Jelly Boy gets everything right, barring some slight floatiness to the jumping, but it doesn't have that spark of something special to call its own. It was even beaten to its transforming hero gimmick by Visual Concepts's Claymates and HAL's Kirby. It's probably why it faded without a trace, though it never leaving Europe didn't help its success either.

Bright, colorful, and mostly malleable also describes P.O.G.S., so let's hear what they have to say:

  • Preservation: It looks great and plays well, with a difficulty curve that hovers in the Goldilocks zone due to its generous health system and off-kilter challenges. Its sense of humor and genial fun goes a long way in establishing a personality for itself, and the aforementioned method by which it draws from multiple influences instead of just one or two gives it an appeal that is, if not innovative, at least comfortably familiar. It may be a little too no-frills for a modern 2D platformer crowd though, as it lacks modern gameplay accoutrements like RPG elements or procgen or spacewhipper exploration. 4.
  • Originality: Hard to argue for its originality when I've made clear its various influences several times, but between Jelly Boy's many shapeshifting forms and the gameplay deviations they engender, it's more than a simple "run to the end" platformer (or, as was often the case for the SNES, "scour each entire level for x number of these things"). 3.
  • Gameplay: Controls well, filled with ideas and unconventional sequences, not too long or repetitive, and a reasonable difficulty level throughout. Even if it doesn't have that X factor, it's a solidly competent platformer that I can't fault too much. 4.
  • Style: Goofy affectations like how Jelly Boy wears a cap and shades for several seconds after collecting an extra life in a sort of "deal with it" power move, or how you're always informed that your cute friend "Helpy Block" is INDESTRUCTIBLE in big letters whenever he shows up to give him an edge of badassery that a yellow smiling block perhaps wouldn't normally warrant, or the way Jelly Boy's main attack is forming a giant fist from his central mass like something out of John Carpenter's The Thing; the game has so many of these stylistic touches which don't serve any gameplay function, and therefore only seem to exist to give Jelly Boy this intrinsic Looney Tunes quality of mild irreverence and an unpredictable nature. The graphics and music are dandy too, if nothing particularly special. 4.

Total: 15.

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